Category Archives: Literary Fiction

The Sunday Salon: Three from ’93

The Sunday Salon.comWith a busy work week spent reading (and editing) all day, every day, I didn’t read much besides blogs in the evenings. But during this three-day weekend, I finished So Far from God by Ana Castillo and began The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. Both were originally published in 1993, I noticed today.

I loved the first half of So Far From God, but I found the latter part of the book disjointed and even didactic. Being a fan of magical realism, I loved Caridad’s story. Loca was a stretch for me, however. Sofi came to life as an interesting character for awhile, but ultimately fell flat.

I’m about halfway through the audio version of Three Cups of Tea, and I hope it remains as absorbing and entertaining as it’s been so far. When I first began listening to audiobooks, I planned on nonfiction only – travel, food, and the like. But I’ve since enjoyed many works of fiction while driving, so I suppose I’ll continue to mix it up. Greg Mortenson’s quest to build schools in Pakistan began when he stumbled into a small village in – yep, 1993 – although his story wasn’t published until 2006.

The Robber Bride is the third of Atwood’s books I’ve read. I found it during lunch one day at a used bookstore, shortly after reading Caribou’s Mom review (link to Wendy’s site on the right). I’m wondering if Zenia will turn out to be anything like Zozie in JoAnne Harris’s The Girl with No Shadow – one of my favorite literary villains!

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Filed under audiobooks, Latin American authors

The Sunday Salon: My first challenges

The Sunday Salon.com

 

2009themedreading-278x3001My first new read of the New Year falls within the parameters of the Themed Reading challenge, which asks readers to pull books from their TBR stack that share a common theme. I chose Latino authors, as I have an ample supply of qualifiers.

So Far From God by Ana Castillo, written in 1993, has become required reading for some literature courses and is considered a breakthrough novel on Chicano life. Set in the small New Mexico town of Tome, the book tells the story of Dona Sofia and her four daughters, each with her own unique abilities – and tragedies. I’m loving the book, with all its Spanglish and references to both Mexican and Native American cuisine, healing arts, spiritual beliefs, and traditions.

The novel also explores the determination of women, as Sofia organizes her neighbors to preserve their heritage and improve their existence by building, bartering, and engaging in enterprises as a community. The long, descriptive chapter titles remind me of Jorge Amado, whose Gabriella, Clove and Cinnamon I will probably read next for this challenge.

well-seasoned-readerFor the Well-Seasoned Reader challenge, I am listening to Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Relin. I’ve had the book for some time, but decided to check out the audio version.

The book recounts the adventures of  Greg Mortenson, a trauma nurse by profession and mountaineer by choice. While descending from an unsuccessful climb up K2 in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains, Mortenson wanders into the small village of Korphe. He promises to build a school and ends up building 51 of them, especially for girls, as a tribute to his sister. This is a story I’ve been looking forward to reading – or hearing, as it turns out – and so far it’s wonderful.

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Filed under audiobooks, award winners, book chat, Challenges, Latin American authors, magic realism, Nonfiction, Salon Sundays

Sunday Salon (Dec. 7)

The Sunday Salon.com

This week I finished Something Rising (Light and Swift) by Haven Kimmel. Although I’ll read other works by the author, I can’t recommend this one. It doesn’t touch A Girl Named Zippy (which I listened to). Something Rising never took off in the second half, as reviews promised. The plot finally thickened and the pace picked up in the last 50 or so pages, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it took too long to get there.

Now I’m about three-quarters of the way through Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip. This seems an appropriate time of year to read it, although the title refers to the summer solstice, not winter. I rarely read fantasy, but I do enjoy the genre when the story is set in contemporary times, as this book is, and the fantasy isn’t overwhelming. In the late summer and early fall, I read three such books: The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce, an intriguing novel with a touch of fantasy, and two books by Lisa Tuttle, The Silver Bough and The Mysteries, my favorite of the two. The latter was more a detective story with elements of fantasy woven into the tale. Solstice Wood is pretty good, too. Until this recent surge of interest, I probably hadn’t read fantasy in a decade – unless The Time Traveler’s Wife qualifies. It’s a pleasant change of pace.

My current audio book is Isabel Allende’s Ines of My Soul. I listen to audio books only in my car, and with my short commute to work and the limited driving I do around town, it takes me awhile to hear a book – except when I go out of town, of course, which I often do. I’m almost through the second of nine discs, and it’s a good story so far.

I’ve discovered that I really enjoy listening to books set in foreign lands (Memoirs of a Geisha, A Thousand Splendid Suns) because I don’t have to stumble over the pronunciation of names and words . Were I reading this book, I’d be pronouncing Ines with a long i instead of a long e, for example, and I’m sure I’d have difficulty with which syllables to accent, as my Spanish is limited.  Although I’ve read several of Allende’s books, this is the first time I’ve listened to one.

Hope everyone has a good week ahead and enjoys the season of lights during these long nights!

Edit 12/08: I suppose I should have mentioned the Harry Potter books when mentioning fantasy. I read all of them.

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Sunday Salon: A Few New Finds

brrrWe’ve been experiencing an exceptionally chilly November for our area over the past week. Usually I read for an hour at least before bedtime. But last week, after snuggling under the down comforter, I was unable to read more than a few pages before growing sleepy…verrryy sleepy. The fact that I’ve been so busy at work didn’t help.

I did finally finish The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters, and I think I’ll review it later this week. Now I’m digging into The Heretic’s Daughter, historical fiction about the Salem witch trials written by a direct descendent of one of the victims.

A couple of nonfiction titles drew my attention this week. The Flavor Bible, written by husband-and-wife team Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, promises to show readers how to intuitively combine flavors and creatively use herbs, spices, and other seasonings to enliven their cooking.

Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory, by humorist Roy J. Blount, Jr. (of NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me), sounds like a laugh-out-loud way to learn more about usage and the English language.

Another foodie book to be released in January, this one a novel, also sounds intriquing. The School of Essential Ingredients is described as “reminiscent of Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, a gorgeously written novel about life, love, and the magic of food.” Can’t wait to read this one.

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Filed under book chat, food, historical fiction, Latin American authors, Nonfiction, The Sunday Salon

Yay! My First Reading Challenge

2009themedreading-278x300I’m entering my first reading challenge with Wendy‘s 2009 challenge:

The Themed Reading Challenge is a six month challenge designed to help readers clear books from their to-be-read stacks which center around a common theme or themes. Here are the “rules”:

  1. Books should be chosen from the reader’s TBR pile (this may be an actual physical pile or a virtual pile).
  2. The goal is to read 4 to 6 books linked by theme.
  3. Overlaps with other challenges are allowed.
  4. Readers may change their list of books at any time.
  5. Readers may choose three different levels of participation:
  • Read at least 4 books with the same theme.
  • Read at least 5 books that share at least TWO themes.
  • Read at least 6 books that share MORE than two themes.

My theme: Read at least 4 books written by Latino/Hispanic authors. This is the perfect opportunity for me to move some of my TBR stack, which includes these choices:

Gabriella, Clove and Cinnamon, Jorge Amado
Swift as Desire, Laura Esquivel
Esperanza’s Box of Saints, Maria Amparo Escandon
A Handbook to Luck, Christina Garcia
So Far From God, Ana Castillo
American Chica, Marie Arana
A Simple Habana Melody, Oscar Hijuelos
In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
The Years with Laura Diaz, Carlos Fuentes
Bitter Grounds, Sandra Benitez

I’ve read other works by most of these authors, but some will be newly discovered voices. I may refine this list a bit and go for 5 books – two by men, three by women; two based on history, three purely fiction; two set in the author’s native country, three set in the U.S. – whatever. I have until February to decide. Thanks, Wendy!

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Filed under book chat, Latin American authors, magic realism

Sunday Salon: Writers on Writing

What: Adventures in Pen Land: One Writer’s Journey from Inklings to Ink

Who: Marianne Gingher, with illustrations by Daniel Wallace

Why: Because this is a cool concept – an illustrated book – remember those? I read about this book in the Arts section of our local Sunday newspaper this week, and I’m intrigued for several reasons.

gingher1I’ve never read any of Gingher’s novels, but hers was among my favorite entries in The Store of Joys: Writer’s Celebrate the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Fiftieth Anniversary. I became museum editor shortly after this compilation, published in 1996, which featured North Carolina writers and poets commenting on a work in the museum’s collection.

I recently listened to the audiobook of Big Fish (which also became a film that I have yet to see) by Daniel Wallace, and I loved it. I’m a sucker for mythology ever since Latin class in the early 1970s. Wallace designed greeting cards before hitting the big time with Big Fish. Gingher also teaches English at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the collaboration sounds perfect.

According to the article, Gingher chronologically describes her literary struggles in a series of essays both poignant and funny. I love reading books about writing, so I’m looking forward to this one.

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Filed under memoir, Nonfiction, Salon Sundays, Southern fiction, The Sunday Salon

Three Junes

three-junesWho: Julia Glass

Why: You read the award winners; you have some Irish in your blood; you like Greek islands; you love collies; or you simply enjoy a good family saga.

Many critics took issue with this book’s winning the National Book Award, but I liked it. I won’t second-guess whether the book deserved that high honor, but it was a good read for me. I noticed it when it was published in 2002, but I finally read it only last month.

Now I have her most recent book, The Whole World Over, on my TBR stack. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing, although I found her characters in this book to be a bit stilted and one-dimensional in some cases. Overall, though, I’m willing to give the author another chance.

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